In a soccer backwater like the United States, few cities embrace the global nature of the sport like Seattle. Our region is a hotbed for international-quality talent (from Keller and Hahnemann to Yedlin and Morris), the Sounders are the class of MLS franchises, and few cities pack a stadium for a match like us. In Seattle, alone maybe in the entire country, soccer is big business. That’s why FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s shocking resignation this week resonates in the Emerald City.
Club soccer is of course a business, as the Sounders love to announce when they break attendance records or start a “Priority List” for season tickets. International soccer is a dirty business. And it is not just the stadiums built for World Cups that lie fallow mere years later, a lingering drain on the former host’s economy, but the smash-and-grab economics of getting those World Cups. Blatter’s four-term reign of terror hearkened back to Chicago circa Prohibition with the kickbacks and racketeering inherent in the governance of the world’s game.
Think of that old cliché “the world’s game.” Soccer is supposed to belong to the world: of, by and for the people. But people never factored much in Blatter’s thinking. He often ignored protests, as recently as those in Brazil last year. And influential stars such as Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe called Blatter out on the sexism inherent in allowing turf fields for the Women’s World Cup. If masses of the common and a few of the superlative cannot influence FIFA, who can?
It is troubling when soccer stops listening to the people and just the corporate entities. We had to fight here when MLS tried to copyright “Cascadia Cup.” The people stopped the corporation from winning (though MLS’s desires to co-opt the ECS continue), and we have to ensure that precedent is followed. We, the people of soccer, must stand up for the integrity of the game.
Ironically, in the end, it was business that put Blatter out. According to many, but best stated by The Nation’s Dave Zirin, the reason Blatter resigned was because the sponsors were getting nervous about the FIFA brand:
But the greatest reason is rooted in skittishness by the only entities more powerful than Blatter and his coterie: the sponsors. FIFA already lost second-tier sponsors like Johnson & Johnson and Castrol in January due to scandal fatigue. Now there has been a campaign linking top sponsors like McDonalds, Adidas, and Budweiser to the mass deaths of migrant workers in Qatar. Tragically and also predictably, their word is more powerful than the millions of Brazilians who took to the streets.
Dangers loom, but, if nothing else, Blatter’s leaving in shame is a moment of joy for anyone who has suffered under his rule by graft and shameless love of dictatorship and autocracy. It creates an opening for campaigners to make the ruling body of international soccer worthy of the game. In his press conference, Blatter said, “I only want to do the best for FIFA.” It may not have been by choice, but on this day he certainly did.
On the eve of the Women’s World Cup and after mass arrests by the US State Department and FBI, FIFA finally did the right thing. Unfortunately it was after Blatter was reelected and the threat of pulled funding from sponsors. The Sounders claims to represent democracy in sports, and as Seattle becomes more of a soccer capitol, we must work to keep the game about the game.